Film noir developed after World War II
, when the overall feelings of anxiety, pessimism
took hold of society. Film noir is considered to be a branch of early crime flicks, such as “Public Enemy
” in 1931 and “Scarface
” in 1932, although the tone is greatly altered. The crime, violence and greed
depicted in a typical film noir piece are symbolic of society’s evils.
The basic characteristics of film noir include melancholy, alienation, pessimism, moral corruption, disenchantment and paranoia. The male characters of such films, both the “heros” and villains, are usually detectives, cops, crooks, gangsters or murderers. They tend to be loners; bitter, sardonic, insecure, and obsessive. There are generally two basic female characters: The dutiful, trustworthy dame or the duplicitous, predatory femme fatale. (The whore or the Madonna.) The manipulative female was virtually always the gorgeous bombshell. In the typical noir formula, the male protagonist must choose between the sweet gal and the evil one- and he almost always chooses the femme fatale. While the male character tends to choose this “spider woman,” she is often destroyed at the end of the story, and sometimes the hero is offed along with her. This is very often a controversial subject when it comes to discussions about the depiction of women in film. Many argue that although the woman is portrayed as evil and is destroyed, her “evilness” and lack of being controlled by the patriarch is symbolized by her character, and by destroying an “in control” woman, one is effectively killing off a woman of strength — a female not able to be dominated (which makes her a woman that men should fear).
Such films are usually (but certainly not always) shot in black and white, which enhance the theme involving the darker side of human nature. Expressionistic lighting is often used, which originally came from German Expressionism (such as in “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” in 1919), and the bizarre, often disproportioned camera shots combined with low-key lighting and smokey ambiance make for a gloomy, unsettling picture. Gritty, gloomy shots of rainy streets, low-lit, dingy apartments and glaring neon lights are the trademark of your typical film noir. French poetic realism was also a great influence, the film style where poetic conventionalization was integrated with realistic subjects and milieus.
The narratives tend to be non-linear and are often told with flashbacks, which lend to the idea that the final outcome of the story (usually involving a demise or two) is unavoidable. The first film noirs were usually detective thrillers, with many of the plotlines taken from literary works by “hard boiled” fiction-writing authors such as Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. Some of the most famous actors and actresses of such movies include Fred MacMurray, Humphrey Bogart, Robert Mitchum, Veronica Lake, Lana Turner, Ava Gardner and Rita Hayworth.
Here is a list of some of many noteworthy noir films:
"Strangers on a Train"
“The Maltese Falcon”
“This Gun For Hire”
“The Glass Key”
“The Blue Dahlia”
“The Lady from Shanghai”
“Force of Evil”
“The Third Man”
“Murder, My Sweet”
“The Long Goodbye”
“The Big Sleep”
“Leave Her to Heaven”
“The Woman in the Window”
“The Postman Always Rings Twice”
"Touch of Evil"
“Out of the Past”
“They Live by Night”
“Shadow of a Doubt”
“Sweet Smell of Success”
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